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Monday, Nov. 3, 2008

Ken Christensen: Boogieman Revisited

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Ken Christensen keeps his musical secrets closely guarded. Since moving to Chicago from Washington, D.C., in early 2008, the producer and DJ has balanced his time crafting beats, running a record label and opening for high-profile artists like Chicago rapper Common.

"Chicago seems to churn out talent in all realms," Christensen said during an interview earlier this year. "[That is] something I have always admired about this city and I am happy to be a part of it now."

Not that Christensen needed much of a boost. He began his DJ career in 1987, thanks to a pair of turntables he inherited from a cousin in New Jersey. By 1996 he was DJing six-deck sets with Juan Zapata; the duo's 10-year partnership as East Coast Boogiemen (ECB) would go on to shape the underground club vibe of D.C. in the late '90s and early 2000s.

"The sets sound crazy with all the layering and we could flip through records much faster, creating a lot more energy on the dance floor," he said. "We also did tricks, turntablism, doubling up records, flares, scratching up all that jazz-we had a nice little show."

Despite a string of successful residencies-including a monthly at the seminal Tracks Nightclub in D.C.-splitting time in the studio proved harder than playing. Christensen churned out tracks under the ECB moniker, with occasional collaborations from Zapata. But by 2006, ECB had called it quits. Christensen, however, continued his groove. Shunning genre-defining labels, his production style runs the gamut of rock, R&B and house.

"I am predominately known for house music, of course, and I do not have a style. I think those who classify themselves as 'funky house DJ' or 'jazzy house DJ' would probably bore the shit out of a crowd," he said.

Christensen keeps tracks equally engaging on his Alphabet label, a European label distributed by the Belgium-based N.E.W.S. Distribution. He and partner Aaron Sparks operate both the label and a forthcoming online house-music boutique.

Christensen's recent move to Chicago has him thinking more about the social liquidity of a party, which on the underground house scene can change on any given night.

"A good party is 50% dancers and people, and 50% DJs," he said. "I think that DJs give more than 50% (as it is), and I think the clubs need to start focusing on the crowd more and get more creative in order to create that vibe again."

First things first: a banging sound system. "Ninety-eight percent of club owners don't realize this: They try to be cheap and maximize profits," he added. "But in N.Y.C. and D.C., the clubs with the biggest sound systems have the best vibes."

Good thing Christensen makes his Milwaukee rounds at Three (722 N. Milwaukee St.). In addition to the lounge's big sound, the DJ/producer gets one more of his favorite musical perks: dance-floor intimacy.

"I think the perfect situation is when you have a big system in a club that holds 300 people or less," he says.

Cha-ching. Friday, Nov. 7, at Three. With support from Milwaukee's Marcus Aurelius, John Michaels and Jonn Hawley. Music 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. No cover charge.